Lydia Bower portrait

Written by Lydia Bower

Marketing and Communications Manager at education charity Governors for Schools.

The lack of diversity is, and has been for a long time, a problem on school governing boards. 

A diverse governing board is a stronger board, reflecting school communities and the wider country. In 2020, over 30% of our volunteers were from BAME backgrounds, and over 65% were under 45, not to mention having different socio-economic backgrounds, and diverse skills, life experiences, and perspectives.

But these stats aren’t representative of most school boards. In 2020, the NGA’s annual governance survey found that 94% of governors and trustees who were surveyed identified as white. Only 1% of respondents identified as Black/ African/Caribbean/Black British, 2% identified as Asian/Asian British, and 1% identified as mixed or being of multiple ethnic groups.

The same survey found that only 1 in 10 governors and trustees were under 40 (11%), and only 2% were under 30. Boards need people of all ages and backgrounds to challenge group think and ensure robust decision making. Younger governors also have a perspective on education older governors simply can’t replicate. While older governors undoubtedly bring valuable skills and experience to the board, they don’t have recent experience of the education system, or know what it’s like to be young now. 

We’ve created a quality mark for schools to use to show their commitment to finding skilled and diverse governors through an independent organisation. Displaying the mark is an assurance to all those in the school community that the board values diverse governance.

The survey figures are not reflective of the schools governors serve. The Department for Education’s school data for 2020 shows that in primary schools, 33.9% of pupils are of minority ethnic backgrounds. In secondary schools, 32.3% of pupils are of minority ethnic backgrounds. Of course, these figures will vary in different parts of the country, but the overall picture is one of governing boards failing to represent the communities they serve.

Boards that register vacancies with us have a higher chance of finding a new governor from a diverse background – in terms of both ethnicity and age. However, we understand that for many schools, while finding governors from diverse backgrounds is important, they also have a number of vacancies that need filling. Schools with more than one vacancy risk being left without the skills needed to run effectively. 

The quality mark is still a useful tool for schools who find recruiting new governors a challenge. It shows that they understand the need for diverse governance, and have taken steps to address it. 

In areas that aren’t very ethnically diverse, finding governors from BAME backgrounds can naturally be more difficult. However, the changes we saw in 2020, specifically the move to virtual governance, has opened up the possibility of having remote governors join boards. Although we expect to see governing boards resume face to face meetings in the next academic year, schools have had to adapt quickly to virtual meetings. This new way of meeting has led to an increase in the number of schools now considering remote governance and inviting those who don’t live locally to join the board. It’s an opportunity for boards to get the perspective and experience they need, and opens up hard-to-reach vacancies to a wider pool of volunteers.

Our webinar panel discussion in September 2020 discussed how to increase diversity on governing boards. The webinar featured a panel of educationalists and governance specialists talking about the steps boards can take to improve their diversity, and a key takeaway was not relying on personal contacts as this often results in recruiting people with similar backgrounds and experiences. By adding the quality mark to their website, schools can demonstrate their commitment to finding governors who can bring the skills, expertise, and diverse perspectives boards need to thrive. 

You can read a summary of the information shared, and watch the webinar recording.

Has your school registered vacancies with Governors for Schools? Download the quality mark and show your school’s commitment to skilled and diverse governance. 

Are you looking for new governors and want to prioritise finding volunteers who bring some diversity to the board? Register your governor vacancies with us online and we’ll search for a volunteer who best matches your requirements.